February 5, 2020

Why Walmart's standalone clinics aren't your typical retail care

Daily Briefing

    Walmart last week opened its second standalone primary care clinic in Georgia, highlighting the company's plans to expand its health care business and reimagine how retail providers deliver care.

    Just released: The future of primary care

    Background

    Walmart's interest in primary care started gaining attention about five years ago, when it launched what it described as customer-centric Care Clinics in existing retail stores in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.

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    Since then, Walmart has ventured deeper into health care. For instance, in 2018, it leased space in one of its Texas locations to the behavioral health company Beacon Health Options to address the shortage of mental health professionals in the region. Also in 2018, the company partnered with health insurer Anthem to provide patients in Anthem's Medicare Advantage plans access to some over-the-counter medications at Walmart locations.

    Most recently, Walmart in September 2019 opened its first standalone primary care clinic in Dallas, Georgia, called Walmart Health. The clinic provides primary and urgent care, labs, x-rays, and mental health counseling as well as dental, optical, and hearing services. Patients can visit the website, "Walmarthealth.com," to schedule appointments at the clinic.

    According to Walmart, the clinic's care prices are 30% to 50% lower than what patients would pay at physician offices. According to Walmart's price list, a primary care office visit costs $40 and annual checkups cost $30 for adult patients and $20 for children. Mental health counseling and routine vision exams cost $45 and dental exams with x-rays start at $25.

    Sean Slovenski, president of Walmart U.S. Health and Wellness, said the company aims to "make an impactful difference in affordability, convenience, and, most importantly, accessibility."

    Walmart opens second primary care clinic

    Walmart last week opened its second standalone primary care clinic in Atlanta, highlighting the company's plan to expand its health care business.

    According to STAT News, the convenience of the Walmart Health centers and their low prices have successfully set the company apart from the competition.

    The first Walmart Health center has been booked to capacity, the company said. According to Slovenski, patient volume at the first clinic has been 30% to 40% higher than what Walmart expected.

    According to Robert Huckman, a professor at Harvard Business School, the health center is "fill[ing] a gap" in patient care in Georgia. He explained, "Providing services that are beyond just simple, single episodes of diagnostic tests or immunizations or very basic forms of primary care, and moving into more sophisticated, slightly more complex types of primary care."

    Huckman said, "Walmart sees these clinics as an opportunity to establish themselves [as] a site to receive primary care on an ongoing basis." He added, "That's a very different take for a retail clinic."

    According to Slovenski, the price listings and extended hours are particularly useful for patients who are uninsured. "We're bringing people into the health care system that have not traditionally been in it and identifying their needs," Slovenski said. "We're kind of creating an entire new market of customers."

    What does this mean for health care?

    The success of the new venture could mean more competition for local providers who provide similar care at higher prices, according to Modern Healthcare.

    But industry experts have yet to determine what impact Walmart Health clinics will have on the health care industry in the long run. 

    Rob Schreiner, EVP of Georgia-based WellStar Health System, said Walmart's competitive prices likely won't influence other primary care providers to lower their prices.

    "Rightly or wrongly, most local providers will believe they are providing a different, more comprehensive service with a longitudinal relationship and more attention to preventive care," he said. "Whether a mom and dad in a working-class family values that longitudinal, comprehensive care, they'll make that decision" (Thielking, STAT News, 1/30; Meyer, Modern Healthcare, 1/31).

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